Tandoori Chicken with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

This Tandoori Chicken is not only incomparably juicy and exploding with flavor, it is shockingly quick and easy to make as well! 

  You are going to fall in love with this Grilled Tandoori Chicken recipe.  Not only is it easy to recreate this Indian favorite at home, this recipe is arguably better than many of your favorite Indian restaurants. This Tandoori Chicken is bursting with bold, smoky, and as-spicy-as-you-want-it flavors, super juicy, and is going straight to the “favorite” file.  It makes a fabulous easy weeknight meal that can go directly on the grill once marinated or is tasty enough for prep ahead entertaining.

top view of authentic tandoori Chicken with Indian rice and roasted tomatoes

Tandoori Chicken Recipe

Tandoori Chicken is by far the most popular Indian dish in the world and with one taste, you’ll know exactly why.  I love Tandoori Chicken so much I’ve already brought you Tandoori Chicken Kabobs and I have a sheet pan form coming up as well.  But today, I couldn’t be more giddy to bring you this authentic Tandoori Chicken recipe!

If you have never heard of Tandoori Chicken, tasted Tandoori Chicken and/or made Tandoori Chicken, don’t be intimidated!  This recipe is very straightforward with only one spice in the marinade you might not have stocked which can easily be found in your local grocery store.

I’ve paired this Tandoori Chicken with a Cilantro Yogurt Sauce to compliment the robust flavors and it positively dreamy, even though a sauce isn’t traditionalThe chicken is best marinated overnight but if you’re in a time crunch, an hour at room temperature then a few hours in the refrigerator will still be fine.  So, let’s get to it!

far away shot of Authentic Tandoori Chicken Recipe with marinated chicken legs stacked on a white platter

What is Authentic Tandoori Chicken?

Authentic Tandoori Chicken is an Indian Recipe in which chicken is marinated in yogurt, lemon juice and spices then cooked in a tandoor – or clay oven. But don’t worry, you don’t need a tandoor for this homemade version!  We are going to replicate the deliciously smoky flavor on our grill (and you can even cheat and bake your tandoori chicken in the oven if you don’t have a grill 😉).

Where does Tandoori Chicken Come From?

Tandoori Chicken gets its name from the large bell-shaped coal or wood-fired clay ovens, called tandoors, in which the chicken is traditionally cooked.  Originally, tandoors were used mostly for making naan/Indian flatbread.   It wasn’t until the early 20th century when restaurateur Kundan Lal Gujral decided to try cooking chicken in the tandoor oven and history was made.

up close of Grilled Tandoori Chicken Recipe with slashed, marinated chicken

What does tandoori chicken taste like?

Grilled Tandoori Chicken is succulently juicy from being marinated in a Greek yogurt and lemon spiced marinade.  It is smoky from the grill and the smoked paprika and boasts a tapestry of earthy flavors from garam masala to ginger to garlic.  It has a little kick to it but I think it has just the right amount of spiciness.  As always, I’ve included a range of cayenne pepper from ½ teaspoon, which is flavorful, to 1 teaspoon, which has healthy kick.

What spices are used in tandoori chicken?

Tandoori chicken is mostly comprised of pantry friendly seasonings:

  • Garam masala
  • Smoked paprika
  • Ground cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Ground coriander
  • Ground ginger
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Ground turmeric
  • Cayenne pepper
  • salt

Showing how to make tandoori chicken by adding yogurt marinade ingredients to a glass bowl

The spice you might not be as familiar with is garam masala BUT it is a very common seasoning and can be found at your local grocery store.  It is a tantalizing combination of ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg.

If you would like, you can mix all the spices together called for in this Grilled Tandoori Chicken recipe ahead of time and store in an airtight container.  This spice mix also makes a fabulous dry rub on chicken, pork and fish.

WHAT CUT OF CHICKEN IS BEST FOR Grilled TANDOORI CHICKEN?

For the JUICIEST tandoori chicken you are going to want to use leg quarters with the skin removed.  Leg quarters are the whole chicken leg comprised of both a thigh and a drumstick in one piece.  They have enough fat to stay moist when grilled at high heat and emerge sooooo tender.  I really just want to use leg quarters from now on for every grilled chicken recipe!

I don’t recommend this recipe with boneless chicken breasts because they will dry out easily when you char the outside of the chicken for an extended period of time at high heat which is required to get a rich char through the yogurt marinade.

If you want to use a different cut of chicken, please use a skinless, bone-in variety and adjust cooking time accordingly.

 top view of Tandoori Chicken Indian Recipe with marinated chicken legs stacked on a white platter with cilantro yogurt dip

How to make Tandoori chicken at home

  • First, remove the skin from your leg quarters.
  • Cut 4 deep slits evenly spaced on the top side of each piece of chicken to the bone. This increases the surface are of the chicken which allows the marinade to penetrate more into the chicken resulting in more flavorful, tender chicken.  The slashes also help the chicken cook more quickly and evenly.

Showing how to make Tandoori Chicken at home by slashing chicken to the bone with a knife

  • Whisk all the Marinade ingredient together in a large shallow dish or large Ziploc bag. The marinade consists of Greek yogurt, lemon juice, vegetable oil, garam masala, ground cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, ground coriander, ground ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt.  Red food coloring is also optional (more on that later).
  • The yogurt is mildly acidic and has enzymes which breaks down the proteins of the chicken and makes the meat more tender. Yogurt is also a flavor carrier so your Tandoori Chicken emerges seriously flavorful. Stick this yogurt/marinade trick in your back pocket- it’s a life changer.

Showing how to make Tandoori Chicken at home by whisking together marinade ingredients of Greek yogurt, lemon juice and spices together in a glass bowl

showing how to Tandoori Chicken at home by whisking together marinade ingredients

  • Add chicken to the marinade and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator 8-24 hours, with 24 hours being optimal.

showing how to make Tandoori Chicken by adding chicken to marinade in a plastic bag

  • Cook!  Grilling and Tandoori Chicken in the oven instructions below:

Grilled TANDOORI CHICKEN

I highly recommend grilling your Tandoori Chicken for wonderfully smoky flavor and characteristically charred appearance.

  • First, remove chicken from the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before cooking. As with all proteins, you don’t want to cook it straight from the refrigerator or it won’t cook evenly.
  • Grease and heat grill to high heat.
  • Let excess marinade drip off. You may need to dab off excess with a paper towel.  You still want it to have a thin coating of marinade, just not goopy.
  • Sear chicken on each side for 5 minutes at high heat then cover and reduce heat to low so that the heat stays around 350 degrees F when the lid is closed. Grill with the lid closed for 12 minutes.  Flip chicken over, cover and grill and additional 12 minutes.  Check chicken temperature.  It should register 165 degrees F.  If chicken is not cooked to this temperature yet, flip and repeat steps until chicken is fully cooked through.

Side view of authentic Tandoori Chicken Recipe with marinated and slashed chicken on a white platter with yogurt dip

HOW LONG DO YOU COOK TANDOORI CHICKEN IN THE OVEN?

If you don’t have a grill or want to make this Tandoori Chicken in snowy winter months (which you will), then you can bake your Tandoori Chicken in the oven!  It won’t look and taste as charred but it will still be fabulous.

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Line a baking tray with sides with foil and lightly grease.  Add chicken and bake for 30-35 minutes OR until the chicken registers 165 degrees F at the thickest part.  Broil if desired for more golden chicken.

HOW DO YOU MAKE TANDOORI CHICKEN RED

Contrary to what you might believe or want to believe, Tandoori Chicken gets its color from red food dye.  If you are not a fan of food dye, then skip it!  It does absolutely nothing for the flavor and is strictly aesthetic.

up close of Grilled Tandoori Chicken Recipe with slashed, marinated chicken

Is tandoori chicken healthy?

Yes!  Chicken is inherently healthy as it is rich in protein, hearth healthy and a much leaner protein than beef.  It is rich in phosphorous, selenium (an essential mineral involved in metabolic performance) and vitamins A and B vitamins.

The chicken is also marinated in primarily Greek yogurt instead of oil so it is rich in protein, B 12 (necessary for energy and healthy brain function), and potassium.    It is also cooked on the grill instead of additional oil or butter.  So, get your Grilled Tandoori Chicken on any night of the week!

up close top view of Tandoori Chicken Indian Recipe with marinated chicken legs stacked on a white platter with cilantro yogurt dip

What Should I Serve with Tandoori Chicken?

Tandoori Chicken is robustly flavorful so it doesn’t need a lot of complicated sides.  It is fabulous served with:

  • My Cilantro Yogurt Dip – recipe below –  YUM!
  • Rice
  • Naan
  • Grilled veggies such as zucchini
  • Simple green salad
  • Cucumber tomato salad
  • Raita
  • Indian chutney/mango chutney

top view of Grilled tandoori Chicken with Indian rice and roasted tomatoes

Want to try this Tandoori Chicken Recipe?

Pin it to your GRILLING, ASIAN, DINNER, or CHICKEN Board to SAVE for later!

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©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

a plate of partially eaten grilled Tandoori Chicken with rice, beans, tomatoes and yogurt dip

top view of authentic tandoori Chicken with Indian rice and roasted tomatoes

Tandoori Chicken with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

This Tandoori Chicken is not only incomparably juicy and exploding with flavor, it is shockingly quick and easy to make as well and going straight to your “favorite” file. It makes a fabulous easy weeknight meal that can go directly on the grill once marinated or is tasty enough for prep ahead entertaining. 
Servings: 4 chicken leg quarters
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 4-5 leg quarters skin removed (drumsticks and thighs)

Marinade

  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt nonfat is fine
  • 1/4 cup Vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 2 tsps EACH ground cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp EACH ground coriander, ground ginger, garlic powder, salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, onion powder
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red food coloring optional

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Reserved marinade (in directions)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Instructions

  • Cut 4 deep slits evenly spaced on the top side of each piece of chicken (see photo).
  • Whisk all the Marinade ingredients together in a large shallow dish or large Ziploc bag. Remove 1 ½ tablespoons Marinade and add to a small bowl along with all Cilantro Yogurt Dip ingredients. Whisk, cover and refrigerate.
  • To the remaining marinade, add chicken and turn to coat. Cover/seal and marinate in the refrigerator 8-24 hours.
  • Remove chicken from the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before cooking.

TO GRILL

  • Grease and heat grill to high heat. Let excess marinade drip off or dab off so it still has some marinade but is not goopy. Add chicken to hot grill and sear for 5 minutes. Flip chicken over and sear 5 minutes.
  • Cover and reduce heat to low so that the heat stays around 350 degrees F when the lid is closed. Grill with the lid closed for 12 minutes. Flip chicken over, cover and grill and additional 12 minutes. Check chicken temperature. It should register 165 degrees F. If chicken is not cooked to this temperature yet, flip and repeat steps until chicken is fully cooked through.

TO BAKE

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30-35 minutes OR until the chicken registers 165 degrees F at the thickest part. Broil if desired for more golden chicken.

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14 Comments

  1. Lin says

    I found garam masala and know it is an Indian spice, but what does it taste like and is it spicy? I want to try new things, but I also cook for an elderly parent who does not.

    • Jen says

      Hi Lin, Garam Masala in this recipe isn’t spicy but the cayenne pepper is. 1/2 teaspoon cayenne won’t be spicy just flavorful but you can certainly use less. Enjoy!

  2. Kristen says

    I am wondering what side dish you paired this with? It looks delicious!

  3. Lydia says

    Hi Jen! I’m making this tomorrow, and I’m so excited! Can you tell me how you prepared the rice in the pic? It looks amazing!

    • Jen says

      I hope you love it! Here is the curried rice – I just throw everything into the rice cooker along with water:

      2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
      water according to your rice cooker direction
      2 teaspoons curry powder
      1 1/2 tsp chicken bouillon
      1 tsp EACH onion powder, garlic powder, salt
      1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, pepper, ground ginger
      1 can kidney beans rinsed and drained (optional)

      • Lydia says

        Whoa, YUM! I cannot wait to make this! You’re the best— Thank you!!

  4. Carolyn says

    I think this is the BEST chicken I have ever made. I must thank you for this. I used 1/2 chicken for my husband and myself and cut the recipe in 1/2. I have been cooking for over 50 years so this says a lot when I say it was THE BEST. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful recipes.

    • Jen says

      Thank you for the ultimate complement Carolyn! I’m honored this is the best chicken you’ve ever made!!!

  5. Deanna says

    Could this be made with boneless skinless chicken breasts?

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! You’ll just need to adjust the baking time.

  6. Sharon says

    Where did my review go?

    • Jen says

      Hi Sharon, I currently have 150 pending comments and am making my way through them as quickly as I can!